A resolution stating CU Student Government’s support in divesting CU of fossil fuel companies passed first reading Thursday night after much debate at what was the outgoing representatives’ last regular Legislative Council meeting in office.
The resolution would not have any actual, financial effect on the university, but would be presented as a statement from the student government to CU Foundation. The university’s large office for donations and funding, CU Foundation boasts at least 200 staff members on its website and, as of June 30, over $121 million in endowment assets, the funds at hand in divestment.
The action on a statement came two weeks after 65 percent of voters in the spring campus election voiced favor for divestment on a question that is being labeled as “leading” by some Legislative Council members. The ballot measure’s exact wording was:
Do you support a decision by CU and the CU Foundation to remove all university endowment investments from the fossil fuel industry?
Tory Moore a 21-year-old senior voted in favor of divestment, but did not need to hear the wording of the ballot measure again to say that he thinks it was “leading.” Citing the use of the words “fossil fuels,” Moore said that the question was one-sided, but he would have voted in favor of divestment regardless of the question’s language.
Moore said that he is concerned by CU President Bruce Benson’s comment at a town hall meeting last Wednesday disbanding any notion that CU Foundation is in favor of divestment.
“CU has somewhat of a reputation of being a green and sustainable university and I guess, based on the town hall meeting, that doesn’t seem to matter,” Moore said.
Former Rep. Rachelle Yeung echoed that sentiment in council when she argued that the university might not be as much of a leader in sustainability as is generally perceived.
“The administration is not known for making productive steps,” Yeung said. “We need to make the moves if we want to be on the cutting edge of sustainability.”
Opponents of the resolution question the gravity of the 65 percent-of-voters figure. According to the tally on an elections results page, 6,386 people, or about 23 percent of eligible-voting CU Boulder students, answered the divestment question. Of that, 4,145 were in favor.
Former Rep. Alexis Scobie said that, during spring campaigns, one ticket gunned for office alongside the divestment question. Since the tri-executive was won by the actively pro-divest ticket by just 22 votes, the question appears unrepresentative, she said.
Former Rep. Neelah Ali isn’t so sure. If the government was to invalidate the number of people who voted for the resolution, she said, then they should also invalidate the elections of the incoming representatives, who were sworn in after the resolution passed.
“If we accept them to come in today then we should vote yes on this resolution,” Ali said.
Former Sen. David Gillis, a chemical engineering senior, argued Thursday that divestment comes at a hefty cost to certain programs at CU that rely on funding from fossil fuel companies.
“They fund our teaching lab, they fund our program, they fund our building,” Gillis said of his biochemistry program. “Phillips 66 came to our lab on Tuesday and donated $1.6 million.”
Phillips 66 CEO Greg Garland presented the last installment on a $3.5 million Jennie Smoly Caruthers Biotechnology Building commitment, a university news release said, after he urged students to step outside their comfort zones in the workplace.
Gillis was also one of a few Legislative Council members who expressed worry about presenting a statement on getting rid of investments without full facts and figures on the university’s current investments.
Scobie said it was a “scary” thought to make a statement on investing, divesting or reinvesting without knowing specific numbers it could affect.
Michael Fitch, a member of Fossil Free CU, said that investment numbers are not available.
“We don’t have information on these specific stocks or funds they’re invested in because the information is not made public,” Fitch said.
Former Legislative Council Vice President Nate Wallshein said that the student government debate over the university’s current investments sidestepped the real purpose of making the statement.
“It’s an idea that when we’re investing our endowments it’s not just an economic responsibility, it’s a social responsibility,” Wallshein said.
The resolution failed to receive a two-thirds majority on a special order Thursday night, but subsequently received a simple 8-7 majority in regular procedure.
The divestment measure was brought to the spring ballot through the efforts of Fossil Free CU, a group of about 15 students actively engaged in severing the university’s ties to the fossil fuel industry. The seven group members present on Thursday were all high-fives after the resolution skimmed by its first test.
The group testified in favor of the bill and brought up the fact that, hours earlier on Thursday, Boulder Mayor Matt Appelbaum joined a group of ten U.S. city councils and mayors urging their cities to divest from the top 200 fossil fuel companies. Boulder already has a policy in place disallowing investments in stocks, City of Boulder spokesperson Sarah Huntley said, but Mayor Matt Appelbaum sees the move as a leadership opportunity.
Since the new slate of representatives took office after regular agenda items, the divestment resolution will be heard by an entirely new panel of Legislative Council members when it is taken up this Thursday.
Fitch, one of the seven members present last Thursday, was confident in the divestment movement after seeing the resolution pass first reading.
“I am very hopeful for the new Leg Council because they ran on representing the students and the students overwhelmingly supported this,” he said.
Fossil Free CU will host a gathering at the UMC founatins on Monday in the hope of rallying support for divestment and the student government’s resolution. It heads to its next and final reading at the public Legislative Council meeting Thursday in UMC room 427.
“Forty-eight hours before our first day of finals, this will get its second reading,” former Legislative Council President Colin Sorensen said Thursday night.
Contact CU Independent Managing Editor Alison Noon at Alison.email@example.com.